How rethinking stress can enhance our performance
I recently listened to a podcast (attached below) featuring Dr. Alia Crum, a Stanford professor who researches mindsets, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Her line of research has discovered some incredible findings, for example, our mindsets can effect our physiological response food. That’s not why were here though, so I wanted to highlight a study she worked on about how our mindsets or beliefs about stress can impact performance.
In this week’s 3 Point’s, I’ll discuss stress and how our mindsets around stress can impact performance.
1. What are stress mindsets?
A person’s stress mindset is the extent to which a person holds the belief that stress has debilitating outcomes- called a “stress-is-debilitating mindset”- or believes that stress has performance-enhancing outcomes for health, learning, and growth- called a “stress-is-enhancing mindset”.
Stress is enhancing? Yes. While most of what we have been taught is the debilitating effects of stress, “researchers from a variety of disciplines have shown that stress can lead to adaptive physiological and psychological functioning, and has been linked to improved performance during physically and mentally demanding tasks” (Smith 2020). Mindsets matter!
2. The researchers sought to study how these mindsets would impact performance, and in this case, studied 174 Navy Seals entering Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. If you are unfamiliar, “BUD/S candidates undergo 7 weeks of intense physical and mental training. The most grueling part of this training takes place in week 4, known simply as ‘Hell Week,’ in which candidates complete tasks and drills throughout nearly non-stop five and a half days of training, while undergoing extreme sleep deprivation (receiving approximately 45 min of sleep per night). In recent years, 7–20% of candidates who start BUD/S training successfully complete it. Candidates drop due to a variety of reasons, including medical injuries, not reaching performance standards, or “dropping on request,” by opting to leave BUD/S during training” (Smith 2020). Essentially, stress is unavoidable in this situation.
3. The study found that candidates with greater stress-is-enhancing mindsets showed improved performance on obstacle course times, lasted longer in the program, and were rated more positively by peers and instructors. Further, in other studies done by Dr. Crum, she found “people with stress-is-enhancing mindsets or those given information about the positive aspects of stress have more optimal physiological responses to stressors and report fewer negative health symptoms and greater positive emotions.”
As coaches, stress comes with the job. Next time you are feeling stressed, remind yourself that it is enhancing outcomes for your health, learning and growth.